Infertility treatment, whatever it's duration, is stressful and often difficult. For the majority of people, however, it's of relatively short duration--within a year or two, a pregnancy is achieved or a diagnosis is clarified, leading to a different path.
On the other hand, there is significant subset of infertility patients for whom treatment spans many years, sometimes even more than a decade, before any sort of resolution occurs. Perhaps this occurs because there is no clear diagnostic picture, or because they have tried multiple, time-consuming ways to build their family without success. Sometimes, life circumstances require them to take longer breaks from treatment. Whatever the case, being in infertility treatment for a prolonged period of time can definitely take its toll on a person.
Bitterness is often the main worry of the veteran infertility patient. After so many disappointments, it can feel hard to be hopeful for the future. Watching friends, family, and coworkers create their own families with less effort and stress makes them feel chronically isolated. Despite their best efforts, these feelings may seep into other aspects of their lives and relationships.
Further, one of the hardest parts of infertility "veteran" status is that after years of trying and failing, an individual can start to feel alienated even from the infertility community itself. I have had more than one client in this situation discuss how they feel they are left behind by all of their infertility friends who go on to have treatment success. Unbelievably, he or she begins to feel envious of other infertility patients. It can start to seem that all the other patients in the waiting room have a better chance of success. When listening to the emotional experiences of "newbies", or those just entering infertility experience, the "veteran" often feels irritated and impatient. The mix of hopefulness along with the anxiety that is so common in the beginning stages of infertility treatment is often painful to hear--the veteran remembers all too well how he or she used to feel hopeful as well, only to end up with multiple painful disappointments. Usually, the veteran infertility patient feels ashamed or guilty about feeling envious, impatient, and irritated with other people, because he or she really wants to be helpful and share his or her hard-won expertise. It is often difficult to recognize that in addition to our altruistic impulses, we also experience negative emotions such as envy and anger. Sometimes, this dilemma can have a further negative impact on the veteran's self-esteem, on top of the damage done by years of protracted infertility.
On the positive side, veteran infertility patients have almost always learned from their prior experiences, and are extremely wise and educated participants in their treatment. They have a clearer idea of what they expect from their doctors and clinics, and they usually make excellent treatment decisions. In addition, they know from experience they are resilient, and that they are survivors. They can be empathic to others who are suffering from a variety of life crises, because they have themselves been in crisis for years. They understand how complex emotions and relationships can be. I believe that when veteran infertility patients do become parents, they are extremely well prepared for the stresses involved in raising a child.
If you find yourself in the "veteran" camp, know that you aren't there all by yourself. For instance, I'm right there with you--with an eleven year infertility treatment history (or as I jokingly call it, an "infertility lifestyle"). It's important for infertility veterans to recognize all the knowledge and strength they have gained from their experiences. Learning things the hard way is probably the most effective form of education, and being an expert has its advantages.
Also, I think the most important thing infertility veterans need to do is to keep trying to achieve their goals, in whatever way they feel will be most successful for them. The temptation to give up is strong, especially when faced with the possibility of future disappointments. However, the risk of profound future regret is real. Thus, endurance, and lots of it, is vital to this process. In order to maintain their ability to keep going, infertility veterans must take special care of themselves to ensure that they do not become emotionally and physically depleted. Being in a chronic state of crisis is exhausting, and it requires good emotional support to not become overwhelmed. Further, pacing is key here--a person can't be full-steam ahead in infertility treatment all the time! Making time for pleasurable personal interests--hobbies, friends, travel, etc., can be really helpful.
Finally, I sincerely hope that if you are an infertility veteran, your infertility career will be over soon, and you will soon have the family you for which you have worked so hard! I would love to hear about your own experiences and perspectives! As always, please let me know if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for further topics.